A few words that I’ve decided to pass on about identity theft. While some of it may be old hat, it’s always good to play it safe.
The Federal Trade Commission recently issued its annual report of consumer complaints, and for the seventh year in a row, identity theft tops the list, accounting for 36 percent of complaints received in 2006. To help combat this problem, renowned identity-theft expert Frank W. Abagnale is teaming up with uni-ball® pens, to provide helpful tips to safeguard identities during the 2007 tax season – and all year long.
For The IRS’ Eyes Only – When mailing your taxes, make sure that your personal documents and enclosed check (if applicable) are not visible from the outside. Don’t make it easy for others to see what is inside the envelope. Try wrapping your check in another sheet of paper to disguise its cover.
Secured Boxes Are Best – Always put outgoing tax mail in a secured mailbox, preferably at a local post office location. If mailing from home, never use the “mailbox flag.” This only alerts “street cruisers” that there may be an outgoing check in the mail. Also avoid putting your mail out at night, when you know pick up is not until the next day.
Write Wisely – Something as simple as the type of pen you use can help protect your identity. Remember to always use a black uni-ball 207 pen when signing important documents, including the checks you write to Uncle Sam. This prevents a form of identity theft known as “check washing,” a process where checks are stolen from the mail or by other means and the ink is erased using common household products. The forger can then rewrite the check payable to himself or herself, in the amount of their choosing. Color pigments found in the uni-ball 207 pen’s ink are trapped into the fibers of the check and cannot be “washed,” ensuring your money goes to the IRS and not a thief.
Shred Old Documents. After that April 16 deadline, make sure to use a cross-cut or micro-cut paper shredder when disposing of old documents. The papers that may not seem important to you could be a treasure if a thief finds them.
Protect Your Computer – Today, working online to do your taxes is a common practice. Make sure that your computer is protected by a firewall and you are using secure software. Also, the computer your children use should not be used for personal financial information, such as bookkeeping, online banking and tax reporting. As much as you might teach them otherwise, kids may download free software – namely music and games that can potentially infect your computer with viruses.
I also add: Be extra careful on your computer this tax season. According to security experts about 25% of computers are now infected with a malicious program and part of what are called botnets. Lots of home and business PCs are infected with programs that allow cyber-criminals to manipulate them via remote control to send spam, gather personal information, and perform other diabolical tasks. Botnets are serious business for cyber-criminals and nowadays they are quite sophisticated–today’s hacker organized crime rather than teenagers hacking for kicks.
Use a firewall, use two programs for spyware protection, and don’t visit suspicious URL’s, especially not using MS Internet Explorer,
Got Your Number – Never give out your Social Security number without clarification. It is also a good idea to avoid printing your SSN on your checks. It is not required to put this very personal number on a document as public as a check.
Choose Experts Wisely – If you chose to have someone help you with your taxes, do some background research before committing to your tax professional. Seek information from organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.
Be Smarter Than Sneaky Thieves – When writing a check to the IRS, make the check payable to the Internal Revenue Service. If an individual simply writes the check out to “IRS,” thieves can easily alter the “I” to an “M” and make the check payable to themselves as “MRS” anyone.